Zucchini soup, and zucchini and parmesan fritters

Annie Smithers is the owner and chef of du Fermier in Trentham, Victoria. She is a food editor of The Saturday Paper.

Earlier in the summer I gave a friend a tour of my vegetable garden and hothouse. As she glanced across the rows of small vegetable seedlings making their brave way in the world, her gaze fixed upon the zucchini plants. A 15-metre row of small, innocuous-looking plants of half-a-dozen leaves each. “Do you know,” she said, “February is the only month I ever lock my car up here.” I looked at her quizzically. “So nobody can put zucchinis in my car,” she explained.

A couple of months later, I think of her every time I venture to the garden. There I am greeted by a tangle of growth in the hothouse – no more neat rows of small plants but giant triffids tied with strings and wires in the hope of containing them. Melon plants hang like shower curtains two-and-a-half metres in the air, cucumbers are trained to trail like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and eggplants and capsicums lean into their stakes, trying to grow upwards, but eventually giving in to the weight of their fruit and gravity. The tomatoes look a little like plants with a mullet, with all the unnecessary leaf growth taken away to encourage fruit production. Then, on the western wall of the hothouse, there they are: the massive, prickly, overzealous producers, the zucchinis.

There is great joy when very early in the summer I pick my first zucchinis – each a little larger than my thumb. They herald the beginning of the great vegetables of summer and autumn and at that stage there is not a fledgling tomato, cucumber, pepper or eggplant in sight. Two months on, however, I sigh heavily at the task, every second day, of harvesting the zucchinis. I have concluded that one zucchini plant is probably ample for any home gardener, as it will produce enough but not too much. If you buy a punnet of seedlings in late spring and plant all six seedlings, you will feel my pain. So, the question is, what to do with all those zucchini?

The plant is a relative newcomer to the culinary scene. Part of the cucurbit family that originated in the Americas, the zucchini was developed in the mid-19th century in Tuscany. From there it has spread like wildfire around the world and has found its way into just about every cuisine. Thankfully it can be eaten raw and cooked and, like the tomato, it is actually classified as a fruit, not a vegetable, so there is no need to feel bad when you fold it through a chocolate cake batter in an effort to use more of the little darlings and hide them from palates tiring of zucchini.

If pushed, I can incorporate zucchini into every meal of my day. A couple of fritters with roasted tomato and a poached egg for breakfast, a zucchini and currant biscuit for morning tea, zucchini and basil soup for lunch, a slice of zucchini and lemon tea cake for afternoon tea and a delicious bowl of spaghetti with lemon olive oil, a paste of anchovy and garlic and a julienne of raw zucchini for dinner.

Both these recipes are what I refer to as instant food: quick and easy to prepare. My preference is to use what is commonly known as the grey, or Lebanese, zucchini. It’s a small tight fruit that has a creamy texture that is not prone to getting watery. The most important thing to my mind is to always strive to keep the fruit small. And, at the risk of offending some, I find nothing appetising about a half-metre watery marrow that has been filled with Bolognese sauce and baked into submission on the pretence of not letting it go to waste. Pick them small because there will always be more little ones on the way.

Zucchini soup

Serves 4

The important part of this recipe is maintaining the colour. Treat the zucchini with respect, blanch it lightly in the liquid and purée it immediately to retain a vivid green.

– 1 tbsp olive oil

– 1 onion, sliced

– 2 cloves of fresh garlic, crushed

– 2 cups vegetable stock or water

– sea salt and pepper, to taste

– 6 small zucchinis, thinly sliced

– 1 cup spinach (optional)

– 10 basil leaves

Heat the oil in a large pot and sauté onion and garlic over a low to medium heat until translucent.

Add the vegetable stock and season to taste, then bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, then add the zucchini, spinach and basil. Return to the boil until the zucchini is just cooked – a couple of minutes at most. Purée the vegetables first and add back the liquid to get the desired consistency. Serve.

Zucchini and parmesan fritters

Serves 4

These are quite fragile, full of flavour and use a lot of zucchini. If you like a more “batter-y” result, double the flour and egg. The parmesan can also be replaced by ricotta or fetta.

– 700g zucchini, grated

– 1 tsp salt

– ¼ cup all-purpose or plain flour

– ¼ cup grated parmesan

– 2 cloves garlic, minced

– 1 large egg, beaten with salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

– 2 tbsp olive oil

Place the grated zucchini in a colander over the sink. Add the salt and gently toss to combine. Let this sit for 10 minutes then squeeze out the water.

In a large bowl, combine the zucchini, flour, parmesan, garlic and egg. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Spoon tablespoons of batter for each fritter into the pan, flattening with a spatula, and cook until the underside is nicely golden brown (about two minutes). Flip and cook on the other side (one to two minutes). Serve immediately.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 16, 2019 as "Opportunity of the bounty".

A free press is one you pay for. In the short term, the economic fallout from coronavirus has taken about a third of our revenue. We will survive this crisis, but we need the support of readers. Now is the time to subscribe.

Annie Smithers is the owner and chef of du Fermier in Trentham, Victoria. She is a food editor of The Saturday Paper.